Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Schools’

Tearful News

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

As much as I enjoyed the Thanksgiving weekend, especially with my mom, brother, sister-in-law, and their three children here with me, I was very preoccupied.

Because I knew that Monday would bring very somber news: 26 of our beloved schools could no longer make it, and would be prepared for closing in June after this school year.

I dread this! I’d rather be opening new schools, not closing some! Those poor children, teachers, parents, parishes, and high schools! They love their schools! They fight hard to make them work! Some have just settled into these schools after the previous closing of others. This is very sad . . .

No denying it . . . yes, it is very sad, for all of us, me included. It’s bad news.

So, I try to concentrate on the good news, as clouded as it might be by the somberness of the closings.

For one, these tough decisions were long in coming, after over a year of study, discussion, consultation, and debate by priests, parents, and experts close to the scene.

Two, we did everything we could, with the archdiocese alone investing tens of millions of dollars into the schools, in addition to grants from generous parishes, benefactors, and parents sacrificing to pay tuition.

Three, and very importantly, near-by every sadly closed school is another splendid Catholic school, with room, eager to welcome every student from a closing school, with counselors from our school office ready to expedite this transfer.

Four, our long range plan, Pathways to Excellence, continues. Remember when this promising project began three years ago, we were candid with you that we would face two sets of school closings, since, sadly, “the vine must be pruned if it is to grow.” The first wave of closings came two years ago, and now, grimly, we face the ones announced yesterday.

Five, though, this should be it! While I can’t promise you that, in the future, a school might have to close, I can at least tell you that we envision no more “Black Mondays” like yesterday when we have to announce dozens of them.

Finally, keep the goal in mind: a strong, vibrant system of excellent Catholic schools, accessible and available to all our children, continuing the two-century legacy of private, faith-based, character-forming education, with a track record the envy of all!

To those tearful over the closings — and I include myself — I say, “I am very sad and sorry your own school, after a valiant effort by so many, can no longer make it. Thank you for your devotion. But, do not be afraid! While your own beloved school might not be open next September, our Catholic schools will, and there is a desk for you! The address of your school might change; the quality and welcome of a new one will not.”

God’s Work of Art

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

A year-or-so-ago, on Pentecost Sunday, appropriately, I had one of those rare-but-dramatic moments of divine illumination.

I had just finished celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation for about two-dozen of our special needs children.

None other than the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, had attended that 10:15 Mass at St. Patrick’s that morning, and was very moved by the ceremony.  She graciously asked to meet each of the children and their beaming families.

As I began the introductions, I bought her to our first child.  “Madam President” I began, “this is a wonderful Down Syndrome young man.”

The proud parents, with all the courtesy and respect possible, wisely and properly corrected me.  “Oh, no, Archbishop Dolan and Madam President!  This is Mark, who happens to have Down Syndrome.”

That was a moment of inspiration for me!  I am eternally grateful to those parents.

I trust you understand the essential distinction those loving parents made:  Mark’s identity is a child of God, made in God’s own image and likeness, redeemed by the Precious Blood of God’s only Son, Jesus.  Mark, God’s work of art, happens to have a condition called Down Syndrome.  But, he is hardly identified by the condition that he has.

Get it?  I tell you who expressed it well:  Blessed John Paul II, who said, “Being is much more significant and essential than having or doing.  And the greatest temptation we face is to prefer having and doing more than being.”

Once, as a parish priest, I had the heart-wrenching duty of sitting with a family sobbing over their husband and dad’s suicide.  This young father had sunk into a deep depression six-months previously when he had lost his job.

He had left a note, somberly writing his wife and kids, “I’m of no use to you anymore because I can’t work.”

Never will I forget his ten-year old son tearfully whispering, “But he was still my dad.”

That boy got the distinction: his dad might not be able to do what most dads do — work, so the family could have what they need.  But, he was still his dad.

Being is more important than having or doing.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught — pardon the Latin! — agere sequitur esse – “actions flow from being!”  What we do springs from who we are.

A recovering addict once shared with me that, before the Blessed Sacrament in Our Lady’s Chapel at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, after a three week binge that had left him literally in the gutter, he prayed “I am nothing but a helpless, desperate, worthless drunk.”  He kept repeating it, he told me, working himself into a more dungeon-like gloom.  Until he came to his senses, clearly through God’s grace and mercy, and exclaimed, “No, I’m not!  I am child of God, unconditionally loved by Him, made in His very image, destined for an eternity with Him — who happens to be addicted to alcohol!”

His identity was much more than his addiction.  The reaffirmation of his identity led to his recovery.

We are not defined by our addictions, wealth, nationality, color, sexual attraction, urges, popularity, grades, health, age, property, background, résumé, political party, or stock portfolio.

We have an inherent identity, a dignity, from God.

Everything we do, or don’t do — morality – flows from the belief about who we are — provided by our faith.

Today we often hear, “I sure appreciate all the things the Church does — its charities, schools, healthcare, even its worship, feast days, sacraments, and traditions.  But I could care less about what the Church teaches, and can’t understand why our religion is so ‘hung up’ on all that doctrinal stuff.”

I’m afraid those who claim that you got it backwards: all the good things the Church does flows from who we are, the faith we have which provides us our very identity.  We do good stuff precisely because of our faith.

Who we are is infinitely more important than what we have or do.

Keeping the Faith

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

I was not that surprised to read it, were you?

The Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago had a fine piece by Peter Beinart, very effectively making the point that, if Jews in the United States are worried about their children and grandchildren keeping the faith – - and are they ever worried! – - well, the best course of action is to support Jewish grade and high schools.

Mr. Beinart convincingly shows that Jewish children who attend Hebrew private schools are statistically much more likely, as adults, to practice their Jewish faith, attend synagogue, marry a Jewish spouse, and pass on the faith of Israel to their own children.

He remarks that American Judaism is at a crisis, with more and more Jews leaving their faith, and not raising their own children as faithful Jews.  A strong Jewish school system, argues the author, will correct that.

Sound familiar?  We Catholics have known this for years:  there is no more tried-and-true way of passing on our Catholic faith to our kids than by sacrificing to put them in a Catholic school.  Data proves they persevere in the faith at higher rates, pray better, are more faithful to Sunday Mass, live gospel values, are more generous to their parish, even have happier marriages, volunteer more, and transmit the faith to their own children, than those not in a Catholic school.

In our nation’s history, Catholic schools had two goals:  to educate excellently, and to form children in the faith.  Both are essential.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with leaders in our Catholic high schools.  They observed that, in some of their areas, the public schools were, thank God, offering a good education.  Lord knows, they remarked, their facilities, and the frills in the government schools, were more dazzling than the Catholic high schools.

So, they asserted, there was only one reason for a parent to sacrifice financially to send his/her son/daughter to the Catholic high school:  formation in faith, values, character, discipline, and religion . . . along with a first class education.

In other words, Catholic identity is a priority.

If our schools are not visibly and robustly Catholic, let’s save a lot of money and close them in areas where our children can get a decent academic education free of charge.

Our Jewish neighbors have come to know that; we had best rediscover it!

Strengthening Catholic Schools

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

The New York Daily News has an excellent editorial this morning on the value of our Catholic schools.

Here is an excerpt from the editorial:

The trend must be reversed. New York cannot afford to lose schools that provide high-quality education to all comers in many of the poorest neighborhoods. Fully 62% of their students come from families that are at or below poverty level, and 44% are non-Catholic.

Dolan and archdiocese Schools Superintendent Timothy McNiff are advancing a plan to fight back against the perception that, in Dolan’s words, the schools are in “hospice” care and subject to inevitable decline.

You can read the whole editorial here.

To Whom Shall We Go?

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Let me share my latest Catholic New York column with you on Catholic elementary schools in the archdiocese. I look forward to seeing our beloved schools grow.

A brief excerpt:

The archdiocese will always support our schools. This decision is not made so “the archdiocese can fill its coffers.” The money saved will be reinvested in our schools and other crying pastoral needs: youth ministry, Catholic Charities, pro-life, marriage and family, religious education, our seminary, new parishes—and expanded, stronger schools.

You can read the rest of the article here.

To Whom Shall We Go?

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Are they worth it?

That’s the looming question we often hear about our Catholic schools, elementary and secondary.

Even many fans of our schools, who support and promote them, are at times tempted to sigh and wonder, “Yes, we know they educate more effectively, catechize better, and form character well, but . . . given their heavy financial weight, are they worth it?”

Last Friday I spent a good chunk of the day at one of our stellar Catholic secondary schools, Kennedy Catholic High in Somers, Westchester County.

As I drove in, I admired the magnificent campus, with a new football field described as the best in the area.  I would later hear of their competitive baseball, track, basketball, football, and hockey teams.  The building itself has won architectural awards for its eco-friendliness, and the school rightly boasts that it was dedicated by none other than Jacqueline Kennedy, only a few years after her husband’s assassination, and Cardinal Francis Spellman.

At the door to greet me was the chair of the board of the school, Mr. Joseph Costello, his wife, and devoted members of the board.  Each of our archdiocesan high schools (there are other private Catholic high schools, mostly governed by religious orders, which, while wonderfully Catholic, are not considered “archdiocesan”), is now juridically governed not by the archdiocese, but by independent boards, in line with the principle of subsidiarity, so revered in Catholic social thought, that the “closer to home” the administration of any institution is, the better it is.

Mr. Costello, and the school’s respected principal, Father Mark Vaillancourt, told me good news:  the freshman class was the largest in years, and the enrollment for the entire school was up.  The school had finished last year financially in the black, because of creative marketing, strong board leadership, vigorous parental involvement, and support from the parish priests of the area, most of whom were all there for the visit.

Then into the door.  (No security detectors or guards, by the way).  There to greet me were smiling, courteous student leaders, obviously excited about their school, all so spiffy, boys in dress shirt and tie, girls in school uniform.

And there was another Person there: Jesus, the Teacher.  There was His prominent picture, dominating the entrance foyer, with the prayer, “Jesus, I trust in Thee” underneath; there He was on His cross; there He was as an infant in the arms of His blessed Mother, whose statue was prominent; there He was, really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, in the chapel in the entrance foyer, where Mass is offered daily by Father Mark Vaillancourt or the newly appointed Chaplain, Father Matthew Newcomb, (If I can find two other priests named “John” and “Luke” to go there, I’ll send them!) who described for me the retreat program, opportunities for apostolic service projects, and ample availability of the sacrament of penance for the nearly six-hundred students.

On to many of the classrooms.  Father Mark Vaillancourt told me of the school’s soaring SAT scores, and that every graduating senior last year went on to college, with the class earning over $12,000,000 in scholarships.  No wonder Kennedy has such a high academic reputation!  The classrooms were clean, bright, technologically up-to-date, with teachers eager to tell me of their courses, and students who were quiet, orderly, and rose to their feet out of respect when we entered.  The library and labs looked state-of-the-art.

One of the rooms I entered was in the  midst of religious class.  There on the board were words like “monotheism,” “the one true God of Abraham,” “Judaism, Christianity, Islam,” “all God’s children,” lessons which sure seemed timely and welcome today.  The Bible, the Catechism, the crucifix, the American flag were prominent.

Sister Mary Christopher, a Sister of the Divine Compassion, the religious order which has been a cherished part of this school from the start, told me how each day began with a communal prayer for the entire school.

I was fascinated by the demanding science programs, math classes, (two areas not my favorite), and showed more interest, I must admit, in the history syllabus, writing and grammar courses, and programs of fine arts and drama.  A solid, classical education!

Then onto Mass: the students read, sang, and prayed.  Their attentiveness and reverence, the warmth of their welcome, were inspirational!  At the conclusion of the Mass, the students asked me to bless the football for next day’s opening game (Kennedy won, by the way!) and gave me a team jacket (which I wore Sunday when I blessed the new Giants Stadium — and they won, too!).

Afterwards I visited with the board, faculty, parents, and — very enjoyably — a group of representative students.  Their pride, loyalty, and enthusiasm for Kennedy Catholic High School was contagious!

One of them told me that, earlier, there had been trouble with — pardon me for bringing up a delicate topic — the plant’s septic tank!  Father Mark Vaillancourt, you need to know, happens to have his doctorate in engineering.  So, down he goes, in the “bowels” of the tank, to fix the problem!  Talk about dedication!

For him — and, so clearly, for his faculty, parents, brother priests, board, alumni, and, most importantly, for his students — there’s only one answer to the question, “Are they worth it?”

A ringing yes!

To Whom Shall We Go?

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

When it comes to the Catholic Church, so goes the popular logic, if something happens to make you angry, always blame the Pope (or the Vatican), or the archbishop (or that darn archdiocese).

Every problem in the Church, in this view, whether the decline in Sunday Mass attendance, the closing of a school or parish, or the shortage of vocations, is the fault of the Pope or the archbishop.

That’s because the perception is that the Catholic Church is a “top-down” organization — at least according to most newspapers, magazines, and radio/TV news — where decisions are always secretly made way at the top, and the “little guy” is ignored.  That’s not only true of the secular media.  In a recent edition of a prominent Catholic journal, published in New York, I counted six blasts at bishops and the Pope in the first six pages!

Want some recent examples?

A newspaper on Staten Island blames the recent controversy about the proposed sale of an unused convent to an Islamic group on — guess who? — that autocratic, aloof, mean, clandestine archdiocese!

Sorry, editors, but the Archdiocese does not micromanage.  I trust our pastors, religious, and lay administrators to run the day-to-day details of our nearly 400 parishes, hundreds of schools, healthcare institutions, and charitable programs.

A decision to sell any parish property initially rests with the pastor of the parish, who should act in close concert with his parish and finance councils and must act in close concert with the parish trustees.   In the current case, the pastor concluded after prayerful reflection that the sale would not be in the best interests of his parish and recommended its withdrawal.

But, never mind all this.  The editors know better.  It’s the fault of that mean-old “archdiocese.”

You want another example?  For years, the pastor and people of St. Michael’s Parish have scraped, saved, and sweated to keep their excellent parish high school open.  Even though not one student in the school actually lived in the parish, the pastor and people fought to save their school, giving $400,000 annually to keep it going.

Finally, reluctantly, early in the spring, with only thirty new students enrolled for next school-year, the pastor and parishioners sadly decided they were out of money, and couldn’t do it anymore.  They asked “the archdiocese” to confirm their decision and, after being reassured that every girl could be welcomed at nearby St. Jean Baptiste High School, St. Vincent Ferrer High School, and Cathedral High School, at the same tuition, “the archdiocese” agreed that the good pastor had made the proper, albeit sorrowful, decision.

Who’s to blame?  The alumnae?  The pastor and parish?  Those who did not reply to frequent appeals for new students or donations?

Surprise, surprise!  The nasty, money-hungry, mean-old “archdiocese” is to blame, according to a source in another, this time, Irish newspaper.  See, this source explains, the property of the high school is valuable, so the stingy, money-grabbing, high-handed archdiocese has callously disregarded the kids to get the money.

Had anyone asked, “the archdiocese” would have let him or her know that there were no plans to sell the structure, and that, even if such happened, the money would stay at the parish, not the selfish “archdiocese,” according to Church law.

Experts in leadership style tell us that, as a matter of fact, the Catholic Church is probably the best example around of the principle of subsidiarity; namely, that a decision is best made at the level closest to the people who will have to live with the results.

To be sure, there have been, are, and will be instances where controversial decisions are made by “the archdiocese,” or by me as archbishop.  When that is the case, I’m not about to “pass-the-buck” and blame somebody else.

But, that’s not the case in the two tough situations mentioned above.

Who likes criticism?  Nobody.  But I figure it comes with the job, and have to face it when it’s legitimate.  That happens often enough.

But I don’t like seeing “the archdiocese” blamed for something not its fault.

It’s so easy, popular, juicy — and sells papers — to blame the “corrupt Vatican” and “money-hungry archdiocese.”

It’s just that it’s not accurate.

Hope and Helping Others

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Today is Public Policy Forum Day, sponsored by the New York State Catholic Conference, and the second of two days that I am spending in our state capital, Albany, New York.  I’ve enjoyed getting to meet many of the leaders of our state government, and having the opportunity to discuss with them some of the issues that we believe are of critical importance to the state.  We expect about two thousand Catholics from all around the state, many of them young people, to join us in sharing our concerns with our elected officials.

One of the highlights of Monday was joining with my brother bishops of the state for a meeting with Governor David Paterson.  Many reporters stopped me during the day to ask for my thoughts on the difficulties currently facing the Governor; I was pleased to be able to tell the Governor at the very beginning of our meeting that while we bishops were there to discuss some very serious public policy issues, we were, first and foremost, pastors, and wanted him to know of our prayers for him.  He seemed genuinely grateful.

Archbishop Dolan meets with Governor Paterson in Albany to discuss social issues.

We were happy that the Governor was willing to reexamine the issues related to our Catholic schools.   A full explanation of the education issues can be found here.  He acknowledged that the State did owe Catholic and other religious and private schools reimbursement for what are known as mandated services and that he took that obligation seriously.  The Governor also said that he would look again at the MTA payroll tax; he seemed persuaded when we pointed out that if public schools were entitled to a reimbursement of the cost of the payroll tax, then justice and fairness would demand that religious and other private schools be treated the same.

The Governor was also very properly concerned over the enormous fiscal pressures currently facing our state; we bishops, who are all facing the same pressures in our dioceses, could certainly relate.  While we presented several concrete proposals to him, our underlying message for each of them was the same: during tough economic times, we must do all that we can to make certain that the poor and vulnerable among us are protected.  We must not let the fiscal problems of the state further hurt those who are already suffering.  I believe the Governor shares our concern.

One other highlight from last night.  I had the pleasure of attending the annual Irish Legislators Dinner, and I told those who were present of my admiration for them and the work that they do.  Public service, I said, is a noble profession, but there always seems to be those who seek to drag down those in public life (some deservedly so).  Two qualities are hallmarks of the Irish people:  Hope and helping others.

I urged our public officials, hundreds of them there, not to lose hope, even in tough times, a period of real crisis here in Albany.  The green of Saint Patrick’s Day, I observed, symbolizes hope, the rebirth of spring, the triumph of life over death.  Don’t lose hope, I exhorted them.

And, finally, I complimented our politicians for entering a profession to help people, that second Irish trait.  Yes, I admitted, politicians are under attack, reputations bloodied by the scandalous behavior of a few.  But politics, I assured them, is a noble profession, with helping others as the goal, and honor and honesty as the virtues needed.  And the great majority of them are true helpers of people, who work hard on our behalf.  We thank them.

Photo by Nate Whitchurch